All posts by Chelsea Schmitt

Q&A: Welcome to Writing

my imagination (when it works) tends to conjure up scenes fully formed and devoid of context, and trying to put them to words – let alone make a story out of them – is really tough. it’s like i’m trying to write a movie that’s already been filmed and i’ve only seen bits and pieces of it.               

Welcome to writing.

I’m not going to say this is what writing is like for everyone, but it is for most people. At the very least, your experience is true for me. I see my stories in scenes filmed in my head and patchwork them together into a narrative after lengthy consideration. Plots come together in fits and starts, and often change. What I envision in my head rarely ends up on the page, often I get something different than what I intended. Learning not to be disappointed by that was a process, and something I still struggle with. Learning how to bring what I imagined to life for others to enjoy was also a process, one I’ve worked at for a very long time.

What most people won’t tell you about writing is that it’s a skill. Anyone can write, anyone can learn how to write, but the good storytellers are those who’ve worked very hard. Developing any skill takes time, it takes practice. You’ll fall down a lot. You’ll face disappointment. You’ll fail. This is true of every novelist and every book you pick up. They’ve all failed at certain points in their lives. They all felt they were terrible. They all wanted to tear their hair out over their characters, their plots, their descriptions, their backstory, their setting not working quite the way it was supposed to. The only difference between a success and a failure is the willingness to pick yourself up and try again.

There’s a great quote from the manga Black Clover, which is a sentiment that’s been paraphrased many different ways but one I think is important to remember when you’re getting down on yourself.

“Being weak is nothing to be ashamed of. Staying weak is,” Fuegoleon Vermillion tells Noelle.

What Fuegoleon means is choosing self-pity over self-improvement is weakness, but there is nothing weak about a person who is trying to improve. They may be struggling, they may not be where they want to be yet, the skills they want to acquire may not come easily, but they aren’t weak.

You may have difficulty crafting characters, context, and plot for the sequences you imagine right now but it’ll get easier and easier if you keep working at it. The only way to improve is through practice. Devote yourself to writing for a certain period every day, or every few days. I personally really like Terry Pratchett’s 400 words a day rule. (You can set any metric you like.) The 400 is the right amount for me that is easy to reach, and if I surpass it? Great. If I don’t, well? I got some writing done. Sometimes, I have to take breaks to work on other projects when I’ve exhausted myself but, in between the point I stop working on one book and start on another, I’m still writing. I’m keeping my skills sharp, and through working with a different narrative may come around the piece I need to move forward with the other one. Following this rule, I’ve written over 60,000 words so far this year. I wrote over 200,000 last year in for various fictional projects, not counting the work I did for this blog. I write a lot, and I follow the basic tenants set down by Ernie Reyes’ Black Belt Code. The Code felt silly when I recited it at thirteen, but means a lot now as a reference point. There are ten steps, but the first five are the only ones I remember.

  1. Set a goal.
  2. Take action.
  3. Pay attention to detail.
  4. Practice, Practice, Practice.
  5. Change if it’s not working.

Rinse, lather, repeat. These steps will eventually lead to mastery.

There are going to be plenty of times where the idea you have isn’t going to work or will require change. You’ll go back to the drawing board multiple times. You’ll realize you don’t have the skills needed either in description, or dialogue, or character building to craft what you want; which means you need to go out and acquire those skills. Then, come back and try again.

Identify your weaknesses. Study works by those whose writing is strong where yours is weak, figure out the techniques they used and try applying them to your own work. You can turn anywhere for this, so don’t let people fool you into thinking it can only be fictional novels. You can learn a lot about world building from strategy games, from pencil and paper RPGs, from video games, history, sociology, political science, and plenty other sources. You can study television and film for to learn about different sorts of dialogue beats, episodic structure, learning how to describe human interaction and facial expressions. You can people watch, then experiment with conversations you heard later. In order to improve my skills writing dialogue, I used to listen to video game dialogue snippets on YouTube over and over and over. I could’ve read a transcript of the dialogue, but I wanted to familiarize myself with the tone, cadence, and vocal patterns of the actors in order to translate that into my writing. So the character sounded like the character, even when their dialogue was read. I do this even now where I’ll pick a film or television show with a character I like to put on as background noise so I can get into the right frame of mind for what I’m writing. There are plenty of writers who do this with music, I have whole libraries and playlists for different characters.

If you don’t know how to do something then work on learning. A large part of writing is taking what you see and what you know and applying it into a specific format. Nothing is off limits, everything is a reference for you. You want to work on character development? You can read lots of books with characters you like, paying attention to how they changed. You can also then go read breakdowns and character analyses to see what others took from the same material. There’s so much information freely available today, many barriers to what was once secret knowledge have been removed. You just have to start taking advantage of your local library and your internet connection.

To be a writer is to be a lifelong student, a jack of all trades, knowledgeable about many things but a master of none. If you want to write myths, epics, and mythic characters then you should be reading myths but I also recommend reading Joseph Campbell. I don’t just mean A Hero With A Thousand Faces and patterning your narrative on “The Hero’s Journey”, but understanding how myths worked, what they meant to the cultures of the people who created them, and the resonant narrative themes which are found in many cultures worldwide.

There’s copying and there’s understanding, copying can bridge into understanding but only if you take the time to really evaluate why a specific narrative technique works the way it does. Learning how something works gives you the freedom to apply it how you want to your own narrative instead of trying to force fit someone else’s vision into your own. This is how you can build your work, your own vision while looking to others for guidance and advice.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Give yourself permission to suck.

Remember, everything you read is the work of months, often years. You don’t see all the author’s failures, their previous bad writing, when they sucked, their points of depression, and (in some cases) their drug fueled benders. You don’t see the endless edits, the previous drafts, the subplots begun and abandoned. You don’t see where the characters began in the finished product, just where they ended up. You don’t see their previous attempts. You might be reading their latest work written in their late fifties rather than the one they wrote in their mid-twenties, early thirties. You’re probably not reading the works they produced at ten years old.

Sometimes, you’ve just got to write and write and write until you start writing well. Physical exercise is like that too. You keep at it until something clicks, you get over the hump, you adjust and it gets easier. Do the best you can right now. Work on surpassing those limits. Once you get over the hump, once it gets easier and you’ve gotten comfortable, set your next goal and work passing those limits. It may feel impossible at times, the mountain insurmountable. When you’re getting down on yourself, you can always go back and read what you wrote in the past. You’ll see where you improved, and realize you weren’t nearly as terrible as you thought.

As Fuegoleon Vermillion said, “Being weak is nothing to be ashamed of. Staying weak is.”

Overcoming adversity is about building character and, when it comes to life getting you down, not taking “no” for an answer. It takes courage to face yourself, and acknowledge you’ve got flaws. Review your failure. Acknowledge your strengths, identify your weaknesses, and work on turning those weaknesses into your strength. The non-dominant hand/side is the most technically proficient in martial arts because you struggle when learning to control it. While the power hand, the dominant hand, is important, the non-dominant hand does the technical things.

You haven’t failed until you’ve truly given up. There’s no better time than now to start building your foundation.

-Michi

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Q&A: Writing that Intimidating Darth Vader Character

How do you illustrate someone that’s absolutely terrifying in a fight? I’ve got this plate-wearing, greatsword-wielding character designed in the style of Darth Vader or the Terminator, but I haven’t found a way to ‘show’ that she’s this terrifying, freakishly strong juggernaut without being sloppy or a blatant power trip, or turning other characters into ‘oh she’s so scary’ plot devices.

The answer is pretty simple, but also difficult in practice because the answer to writing intimidating characters is a concept called “presence”. In film, this is usually referred to as screen presence but in fiction (and in life) we’ll refer to this as body language.

There’s a mistaken assumption that you need to be large to be imposing, but what makes Vader and the Terminator so imposing is actually their body language and the way they’re framed. In their case most of this is visual, in the color palate, in the costume, but it’s also there in the body language. If you want to riff these characters in fiction, then you need to focus on how they behave and how the people around them react to their presence.

Why are they intimidating?

Why do they scare people?

You need to delve into the nitty gritty to translate what you’re feeling and seeing onto the page. You’re making a mistake in assuming that the character’s tools, the armor, the great sword, will do the work for them; but that’s not what makes someone intimidating in written fiction. You have to show what that armor and weapon mean.

The easy version of intimidation is total domination, total mastery, and total control. See below:

Lifting her eyes, Kadi took in her mother’s lazy stance, her blade in an almost ready position. She snapped forward, silver and green flashing in the mid-afternoon light. Re-appeared just behind her on the windowsill, ready to thrust.

Her mother’s blade caught her in the gut.

Kadi struck with her blade, blood spilling past her lips.

“Good,” her mother said, knocking the strike away. She caught Kadi by the collar before she fell, yanked back into the room, and flung her across it.

Kadi struck the wall, tumbled to the floor. Twisting, she landed on her feet. The blade spun in her hand. She rushed forward.

Her mother’s eyes gleamed yellow. “Your form and shape are tools.”

Their blades met in a clash of sparks.

“Control the flow of blood, and your body will not die until you wish it.”

She brought her blade up as her mother pressed inward, twisting sideways. Dodging her mother’s punch, she struck toward the inside of the thigh.

Her mother slipped away. “Never yield. Continue after the last enemy is dead.”

Their blades met again, and slid along the sharpened edges. Gritting her teeth, Kadi ignored the pounding in her ears. Her blood slipping down her stomach. She flicked the blade up, and drove the tip toward her mother’s neck.

Her mother’s foot caught Kadi’s gut wound, kicking her into the opposing wall.

Kadi landed hard.

“Get up.”

“Wake the Dead” by C.E. Schmitt

Keep in mind with this training sequence, the characters in this passage aren’t remotely human. So, you don’t have to worry about the long term ramifications of damage to a physical body. The purpose of the sequence is to teach both Kadi and the character about a body’s disposable nature. Kadi is learning how to fight through extreme injury, and even death.

You’ll notice Kadi’s mother doesn’t move from her position at all throughout the scene. Kadi attacks her, trying to break her defenses. We see her give Kadi a gut wound, save Kadi from falling out the window, and see her attack the gut wound. We see Kadi focusing while her mother instructs, multiple attempts by Kadi to attack her mother none of which are successful.

You don’t need to ask the question: who has the power in this scenario? It’s clear Mom does.

If you want your character to be intimidating in the classic villain sense then, not only do they have to win, they need to win without breaking a sweat. They should exude a sense of confidence whenever or wherever they go, regardless of what room they walk into. Other characters in setting get a chill just hearing their name. Knowing they’re nearby makes even seasoned established badasses freakout and suggest heading for the hills.

You have to let them do their thing, let them win, and let them keep winning until the time comes for them to lose.

Characters like Darth Vader and the Terminator put incredible pressure on the heroes until the end of the film, they evoke feelings of fear and desperation because they are so unfazed by the best warriors and conventional tactics. They represent overwhelming power, they are so unconcerned with ensuring their impending victory that they walk rather than run. By their own design, they’re better off used sparingly than spending the novel front and center or acting as the protagonist rather than the antagonist. These two aren’t just villains, they’re supporting characters. This is the Terminator, even in films like Terminator II where he’s a re-programmed good guy rather than a bad guy. He’s a bodyguard. There to kick ass, take names, and bond with John Connor. After all, Sarah Conner is the hero of both Terminator films. (OG Sarah Conner in Terminator II is not a bad character to look at for this kind of stone cold badass.) Due to their designed role as supports, you have to do a lot of work to remake them into protagonists.

As you’ve discovered, writing a character who is convincingly scary and intimidating is more difficult than it sounds. You have to walk your talk, and walk your walk. If you oversell and can’t make good, the character falls flat. If you tell without showing, then the tell has nothing to back itself up. You can’t tell me the character is a dangerous, unstoppable juggernaut and have the heroes defeat them two pages later. You oversell the character, and eliminate reader trust. They might not believe the next villain you trot out is a legitimate threat, which undercuts your narrative tension.

They need to live up to their reputation.

They need to inspire fear in others.

We need to see why people fear them and their skills.

Attitude – “I don’t have time for you.” These characters tend to be gruff, but they’re mostly condescending. They tend to be reserved even when they take up space. They’re in the rare situation where both their rudeness and confidence are justified by their ability to back it up. (You have to justify it, you can’t expect them to do it on their own.) You have to really stack up the odds for them to start getting ruffled. Therefore, it’s up to you as the author to figure out the narrative limits within your own setting. This way, you can keep your story consistent from scene to scene. One thing is common with all these characters is they take up space, they’re unapologetic about it, and when they walk into a room everyone notices. Also, get off my lawn.

One versus Many is an old hat narrative trick to establish a bad ass via fight scene. You need to be careful overusing this one, and then there’s the question of whether or not you as the writer can write a 1vX scenario. Juggling multiple enemies looks easy on screen, but isn’t when it’s just you trying to figure out how you write that.

The 1vX ups the ante when the seasoned antagonist takes on other top tier members of their group/established narrative badasses solo and handily wins. Well, you know they’re strong.

Deeds – What have they done to be worthy of their reputation? A warrior who slaughters farmers at the request of their overlord comes off as a bully. A warrior who slaughters the king’s best soldiers and then slaughters farmers afterward without mercy is goddamn terrifying.

The Power Stance – This is where the character stands forward facing, shoulders squared and chest lifted. Head up. The juggernaut fighting style involves not moving much unless you have to. They don’t draw their weapon unless they need it. You should probably view the weapon draw as the character signaling she’s getting serious, rather than her first go to. She’s not going to be serious in a bar fight because this is a character for whom the normal rules of safety don’t apply. (Also, the armor significantly limits all threats.)

Everyone Wants to Be the Best – The climb to the top is long, hard bitten, and fraught with danger. If you have a character who is the best at what they do like Darth Vader, you should respect the time and effort they put in to get themselves there. These characters often have very specific and job oriented personalities often to the point of obsession. For someone to be so on top as to have the reputation they do, they must have killed a lot of people. They’re the ones with a target on their back, the one everyone’s gunning for, who everyone wants to kill, and that doesn’t bother them at all.

Establish the Bottom – If you want to establish how much better a character is than everyone else, then you need to figure out and establish both the low bar and the average bar before jumping at the high bar. If the high bar is all people get, then they’ll think that’s where normal is. You need to establish why the power and skill gap between this character and others is so immense right from the get go, from our first interaction with the character. They should be pulling things off other characters can only imagine. For this reason, they usually don’t work well as POV characters.

Walkin’ Into Danger Like It’s Tuesday – Yeah, you know the famous line from Bison, “The day I graced your village was the single most important day of your life but, for me, it was Tuesday.”

The horrors they inflict are foundational for other people but, for them, what they do is normal. They’re the chaotic tornado upsetting other people’s lives, memorable to other people, but other people aren’t usually memorable to them. After all, they’ve done this for so long the faces begin to blur together.

Again, See Below:

The hellbeasts stalked into a semicircle, their long jaws slavering as they grinned to display razor sharp teeth.

“Get behind me, Emma,” Chastity said, drawing her blade. She stepped forward. “It’s going to be all right.”

Beside her, Jayse pulled his pistol. He didn’t question Chastity, they didn’t need Emma freaking out. Still, with the five hellbeasts in front of them, more on the rooftops, neither of them could make any promises about keeping an untrained neophyte safe. Chastity lacked the skills to deal with this many wargs on her own, and she was low in the rankings. He’d have to dip into his own powers to even the scale, even then he couldn’t make any guarantees.

The hellbeasts lunged.

Emma screamed.

The world exploded in a flash of hot white light.

Sharon Kelso stood where the hellbeasts had been, watching dust particles left behind by atomized bodies drift through the air. Her right hand stuck in her jean’s pocket. Her eyes glowed bright white. A small, winged imp-like creature squatted on one shoulder. Casually, she broke off the end of a candy bar and handed it to shriveled green thing.

The little imp snatched the bar, stuffed it into its mouth.

Kelso tilted her head, surveying each surprised face in the circle. “Go home.”

“Yeah, yeah!” the little imp yelled. “If ya don’t, we eats ya!”

“Eats! Fucker wants eats!” cried a second, tucked behind her leg. It titled its head, mimicking its mistress. “Wait. Can we eats them, Boss?”

Keso smiled faintly. “Not yet.”

“We can’t eats ya yet!” the first imp yelled.

The second shook its fist. “Stay for dinner, and we will!”

Kelso looked away, her expression dispassionate. “Go.” Her blazing white eyes scanned the nearby alleys, studying the shadows. “I don’t babysit.”

Jayse got to his feet, brushing off his arms. He tried to catch Kelso’s eye. Failing, he sighed and slipped his dagger back up his sleeve. She was definitely in one of her moods. They’d have to talk about her people skills, or lack thereof later. He resisted the urge to shove his hands in his pants, that’d just confirm he was still the disgruntled teenager Stewart believed he’d let himself become. “We should do what she says.”

“S-s-she just disintegrated them,” Emma whispered.

“She does that,” Chastity sighed.

Emma blinked. “Just like that?”

“Yeah,” Chastity said.

Jayse pushed back his hair, his eyes on Kelso. “There’s a breach in the sewers, third level. You shouldn’t go alone.”

She glanced at him, the light dying in her eyes. Brown irises flickered yellow in the street lights, and, for a moment, he saw confusion there. Then, her lips curled into one of her creepy, villainous smiles. The light flared back up inside her pupil as she rubbed her nose. “Amateurs.”

“Amateur! Amateur!” the little imp on her shoulder cried in a sing-song voice, and the second joined in to chorus, “amateur ashes all fall down!”

Jayse stiffened.

“She’s Number One for a reason, Jayse,” Chastity said. She reached out, and tugged at his sleeve. “We should let her do her thing.”

She’s Number One?” Emma squealed. “Wait. Number One? What does that even mean?”

Chastity smacked her forehead. “I knew we never should’ve let Emma out. There’s a dimensional breach. We got crossways of Kelso. Stewart’s gonna kill us.” She sighed heavily, biting her lower lip. “Our luck sucks.”

“You’ve no idea how right you are,” said another voice from behind them.

Kelso looked away, and the fiery light returned to her eyes. She walked down the alley, her shadow spread up one wall but not the other. As her shadow moved across concrete and brick, a pair of wings lifted off her back. Kelso finished off her candy bar, tossed the wrapper, and kicked off the manhole cover at the alley’s end.

“See you later, suckas!” the imp cried.

Kelso, imps on both shoulders, dropped into the sewers.

“Great,” Emma muttered. “She’s an asshole and she litters.”

“And she could stick all your internal organs on the outside of your body with a wink,” Chastity said.

When you encounter this character, they should feel like someone you really wouldn’t want to meet in a back alley.

– Michi

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Q&A: Reaction to Punching

I know this may sound stupid but, how do you write what happens after the punch hits to person? Like, when the punch hit “Their head flung/snapped sideways” Is there a word/words to describe that moment?

itshighnowon

This isn’t a stupid question. After all, if you’ve never punched anything before or spent a lot of time around martial artists or practiced martial arts then you’re not going to be familiar with the after effects.

You can use many different words to describe a punch hitting someone, so there aren’t specific words you need to use. Some descriptions are better than others. You generally want to follow the rules of physics and force projection. The head is a decent example for big motion, outside the rest of the body, because the only structural support is the neck. When struck with a single hand instead of in dual motion (like say boxing the ears), the head will generally move in the same direction the force was applied.

Forward = back

Struck from right = swings toward left side (follow the force)

Struck from left = swings toward right side (follow the force)

Behind = forward

Under = Up

If you hit them hard enough they might be knocked off their central axis, at which point they will step in the appropriate direction to counter the incoming force. If enough force is applied to knock them off balance, they may stumble. Keep in mind stumbling is unlikely on the punch, especially against someone who knows how to set their balance, because upper body strikes aren’t as powerful as they’re presented on television.

So, if you strike someone in the face with a jab then their head might “snap backwards” or be “knocked backwards” depending on how hard they’re hit. The question is the image you want to present, verb “snap” implies a quick jerk where the reader might assume “knocked” affected more than just the head and led to a step backwards to regain balance. So, you might apply “snap” to a quick strike off the leading hand and “knocked” to strikes off the secondary power hand. I won’t say “left” or “right” because the hand positioning relies on which side of the brain is dominant. If you’re right handed then the right is most likely your dominant hand and your power hand, while the left is the front/light/fast hand. Vice versa for the lefthanded side.

This is just the head. If you were to punch someone in the stomach, their whole body would curl inwards to protect the injury and because all their air got knocked from their lungs. They might step backwards, they might fall to their knees.

Like with all writing, you want to think in depth about the verbs you’re choosing for your action sequences. Action verbs are not interchangeable. The question of “what is the physical response to someone being punched?” is reliant on the type of punch and where the punch lands. In a broad sense, you need to consider the point of impact and how far that impact is off center. You can consider center as the center line running up the middle of your body, strikes to that center, particularly in the upper body, are more likely to knock an opponent off balance. Not every punch will destabilize an opponent, not every punch will move them in an obvious way. Strikes to the shoulder, to the arm, to the legs, will cause responses in those single targets. The lack of an immediate, obvious reaction in those areas doesn’t mean the strikes are worthless. Punching someone in the shoulder can make it more difficult for them to lift their arm, which hinders both attack and defense.

Samantha knocked Joe’s arm away. With her right hand, she punched him in the shoulder. She didn’t wait for him to flinch, backhanding him across the temple. Joe’s head snapped sideways, and he stumbled. Seizing Joe’s loose wrist, Samantha drove a roundhouse into his stomach.

“Knocked” gives the impression of something going flying. Samantha “punches” him in the shoulder, which is a straightforward straight punch. Then, because she’s close, she “backhands” him with the same hand. Due to the force coming sideways, his head moves in the direction of the force inflicted, and, because it’s off center and he wasn’t expecting it, he stumbles. Then, Samantha grabs the arm he left free and kicks him. This is an age old tactic that works better with a sidekick, but the general idea is that you hold onto your opponent while delivering a powerful blow so the force cannot be mitigated by them moving backwards. They have to stand there and take it.

In hand to hand combat, some measure of force delivered will be mitigated by movement and some will be absorbed by you on the moment of impact. This is why you lock your joints and muscles in the moment before the strike, and why you can injure yourself when hitting someone else. While these are technical details which will slow down your scene with experienced combatants, they become an important point with inexperienced ones. Inexperienced fighters will tense up too early or too late on strikes, resulting in them being slower and failing to put all the force they’ve generated by their momentum into their opponent. They will also stop their strike before or at their opponent’s body instead of striking through them. This limits their force projection and, again, halves what they put into an opponent. In context, this is what martial artists mean when they say beginners don’t hit very hard.

What you need to do is practice visualizing the scene you want, then finding the words to describe it. When writing fight sequences, familiarize yourself with much imagery regarding the subject as you can. I recommend searching YouTube for How To videos on various martial arts and paying close attention to what happens when these various martial artists strike pads. Even when you’re not looking at someone fighting another human being, seeing how the impact affects the pads can be instructive for describing different situations.

The answer to finding the right words is trying out different verbs and different descriptions until you find ones that evoke the imagery or feeling you want for your scene. Unfortunately, this latter half is part of being a writer. There’s no right way to do it. The authenticity of the sequence will come from how well you portray your physics on the page. Almost nothing you write will come out perfect off the cuff. Ultimately, in this case, practice makes perfect.

-Michi

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Q&A: Valentina Shevchenko is Awesome!

The women’s deadlift record is less than 700 pounds, the men’s is more than 1100. Every medalist of the 2016 800m women’s Olympic race was XY intersex. Denying science doesn’t make you progressive.

I want you to know, every other martial arts I read this question off to has burst out laughing. This includes male martial artists. Then, they all pointed out why it was dumb.

Using unrelated scientific data to support a reactionary position doesn’t make you progressive either. Turning to weightlifting for “proof” in relation to the combat arts is the number one most common refuge by people who have no idea what they’re talking about. They turn to weightlifting because they think that physical strength i.e what you can deadlift is important proof for superiority, even if it’s meaningless in context.

Men can lift more. So what? We know they can. Men have a much easier time building up their upper body strength than women do. I’ve said it before on this blog. Women have an easier time building up their lower body strength. Women also have a lower center of gravity, which makes them more difficult to throw if they’ve learned how to properly set their weight. The overspecialization of the weightlifter with their musculature means they can’t actually achieve full extension on their strikes and halves their power. Which is why this specific argument is funny. They’re also ineligible for military service because they’re overweight.

My friend who has competed in archery tournaments internationally once had a group of bodybuilders come into her archery range. They wanted to do a marketing photo shoot where they were drawing the bows. Here’s the funny part: they couldn’t draw the bows. They’d developed their biceps and triceps, but hadn’t properly developed the necessary muscles in their shoulders. They couldn’t draw. After learning the proper technique, they still struggled.

You’re offering up statistics that don’t apply in hopes that they’ll prove some kind of point about male superiority. However, the question is male superiority in regards to what?

I’ve never argued men aren’t capable, just that women’s skills and ability are misrepresented. Nothing stops me from appreciating individuals for the skills and experience they bring to the table. Barfing up statistics that mean nothing in context to the argument you’re trying to make does nothing for the argument itself. Misrepresenting those statistics does a disservice to everyone involved, and just makes you look like a fool.

I don’t care about gender or sex because what matters is the person in front of me, not general assumptions about superiority which may or may not apply.

On to question number two:

In other words, you believe with a straight face that Valentina Shevchenko would have even odds against Stipe Miocic?

After having looked at these two fighters and their records, I’m going to assume you didn’t do any research because Valentina Shevchenko is a straight up terrible pick for your argument.

We’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s start with the UFC problem.

We’ve talked about the UFC before. Prize fighting is entertainment, the structure of prize fighting is for entertainment, and they will never put forward fights that are not for entertainment. This is gladiator combat, the big brother of the WWE. There is no point in speculating about matchups that will never exist. Given “even odds” are dependent on a betting structure designed to make the fight as exciting as possible rather than be a reflection of skill… well, the obvious answer should be obvious. They wouldn’t give her even odds because the whole point of selling such a the match up in the current UFC system is underdog versus the big dog. Not because it’s true, but because it’s more exciting that way. The UFC would need substantially different rules regarding matchups to give this question any validity.

Why are you insulting these two professional fighters in some mistaken drive to prove male superiority? Why are you foolish enough to assume “odds” mean anything in a sports system designed specifically to drive viewers to bet? The odds are literally the betting odds, and the betting odds are decided by a very different system unrelated to the fighter’s skills. Therefore, they’re not a good source for scientific veracity.

If you’re question is do I think Valentina Shevchenko could fight Stipe Miocic and win, the answer is: have you looked at this woman’s record? She is awesome!

She’s been active since 2003, from 2003 to 2015 Shevchenko collectively won more than 50 amateur/pro matches in K-1, Muay Thai, and kickboxing. She has 81 total bouts today, including UFC, across these three sports to her name. Of those 81, she has 74 wins. Miocic has 21 bouts, and 18 wins. Miocic has been active since 2010. He has 21 and only in the UFC. Miocic is considered the best UFC heavyweight fighter. His major background is wrestling and football, and he has trained in boxing. Shevchenko is considered to be one of the best female Muay Thai fighters in the world. She’s one eight gold medals, five of them consecutive. When she was twelve, she knocked out a twenty-two year old. Her background is taekwondo, Muay Thai, kickboxing, and judo.

I don’t think you did any research before you picked these two off a list. This is why you shouldn’t judge people based off their height, weight, and looks. Between the two fighters, she has vastly more experience and a precision style that specifically counters his. This is a bad match up for him. You should’ve cited Ronda Rousey.

However, it wouldn’t mean anything if he lost and she won or if she lost and he won. The whole argument is pointless because combat in the real world doesn’t care about statistical advantage. Whoever survives wins. There’s more to winning than a weight difference. You’ve already disrespected both these combatants who have impressive backgrounds and accomplishments to prove… what, exactly? Women can’t compete with men in the heavyweight division? Men in the heavyweight division are better fighters than every other division? Or did you choose the heavyweight division and its fighters because it’s the most celebrated one? (Do you not like the welterweights?) You don’t honestly believe Stipe Micocic is the best fighter in the UFC because he’s the current heavyweight champion, do you?

There’s a women’s division in the UFC now. Ten years ago, people like you said there never would be because women either couldn’t fight or no one would want to watch them fight. Yet, here we are. People ignore there’s a long history of female fighters in gladiatorial combat, but it’s there. There are female warriors scattered throughout history, in countless cultures, who fought on many battlefields. After all, Julie d’Aubigny, also known as La Maupin, was one of the finest fencers of her day. She was trained alongside the boys by her father at birth, she fought and defeated many men in duels in 16th century France.

None of this means anything in regards to you anyway. After all, you’re not Stipe Miocic. Stipe Miocic defeating Valentina Shevchenko in a hypothetical contest does nothing for you. It proves nothing for you. Not when Valentina Shevchenko would wipe the floor with both of us. I don’t think you’d want to stand in the ring with her during a fair bout.

Supposed male superiority won’t help you much when the person you’re making comparisons to is light years ahead of you, the person making the assertion. This is why this argument is pointless. Combat is about whether or not you can fight the person in front of you and win, it’s about dealing with the situation you’re in, not some hypothetical best who is over there somewhere. If I’m not fighting them, then, in the moment, I don’t care about them.

I’m not going to worry about men, plural, but the singular man, what he can do and what he can’t. This must be the most terrifying concept for you, that you will be judged not for what you are but who you are. Viewed for your accomplishments, your personality, what you have to offer, and not some predisposed standing society has gifted to you by the benefit of your sex.

Step back, start asking yourself some hard questions about why you need male superiority in all respects to matter. That says more about you than you’re willing to admit.

-Michi

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Q&A: No

Can you make a post about size in a fight? People like to argue in the comments. And usually when they go on and on about how size DOES matter in a fight, they usually use a woman as an example of a smaller opponent.

I’ll be honest, the people you’re talking about in the comments are misogynistic pricks who aren’t worth my time. They’re not worth yours either. You can tell they’re either chauvinists or misogynists because their worldview doesn’t allow for the existence of tall women, or a woman who is six feet tall. If you point out that the woman might be taller of the two in the scenario, you can watch them combust as they try to move the goal posts. (That happened about four months ago, or so.)

On the professional side, “How to Fight Write” now has 40,000 followers and we lend them more legitimacy by responding to them directly than we do just letting them stew in the comments. Besides, we’ve talked about the realities of size and its (rather negligible) effects on combat before and at length. They read this blog. Their complaints aren’t an honest attempt at discussion, they’re just bait to stir the pot.

The issue of size is one that will come up again and again because it’s culturally enshrined as “common sense” wisdom. The theory supports a broad narrative based in what “everybody knows” and is used to de legitimize those wanting to break with the status quo. This concept has no basis in reality and there’s plenty of evidence everywhere that will tell you human beings come in all shapes and sizes, and learning to deal with that is just a fact of life.

The real conversation happening here is not about size. Size is just the verbage used to keep themselves from being called out as misogynistic pricks. They’re talking about women, and about men being better than women because their worldview, their self-image, and need to be relevant demand it. We could go over what we’ve gone over already, but I don’t feel like it.

Instead, I’m going to talk to you about size from the perspective of someone who has done martial arts since they were five years old.

I’ve told the story in the past about how when I was eleven a girl in my class tried to physically intimidate me. We were in sixth grade, and she was class bully. She had a little tag along friend who stuck close to her side, whom she was the protector of. She reached her growth faster than the rest of us, and she felt much larger and taller than me then than Starke (who is a very large, broad, and physically intimidating 6″) ever has. Having spent most of her young life being taller (and more filled out) than everyone else, including the boys, she was used to using her size for intimidation. I got cross ways of her over a class role-play we did on the Greek Gods. We had a debate. I won. So, after it was over, she came up to me, leaned down over me, with her arms crossed over her chest, and told me to never do that again or else. I think she may also have told me to meet her behind the gym. And I… didn’t notice.

I was confused by her behavior. It took a couple days of contemplation to realize she’d been threatening me with physical violence if I didn’t acquiesce to her demands, and expected me to back down because she was five to six inches taller. However, I’d been doing martial arts for about five years by that point, and if there’s one thing about being a kid in a martial arts program it’s that you get used to working with people of all shapes and sizes. I trained with people who were taller than me all the time and because I grew up in the company of friendly giants, I’ve never found large people intimidating.

So, that day I biked home like always did instead of meeting her behind the gym (because why?) and a few days later she wrote “bitch” in pencil on my desk.

This girl was used to getting her way not because of her size, but because of the intimidation factor her size gave her. It probably worked on both girls and boys who got in her way, and she expected size intimidation to work on me because I was small, mousey, and wore glasses.

As most self-defense experts will tell you, the battle is played out in the mind rather than the body. If you decide you’ve lost, you will. That’s why the advantage game is worthless. If you treat this someone’s physical attributes as a definitive sign that they’re better than you, then you will lose because how can you beat someone who is better than you? There’s a lot more that goes into combat than a few yes or no check boxes, and all the DnD stats in the world won’t translate over. Someone being large doesn’t mean they’re strong, big doesn’t equal slow, and tall doesn’t translate to an automatic advantage outside of it giving the tall person a false sense of confidence like the girl who tried to bully me.

Trust me, all it takes is seeing the biggest guy in the class struggle with a technique which came incredibly easy to the smallest person for the myth about size to be dispelled right quick.

When I was five and a little white belt I did my first “sparring” with Alan, a second degree black belt who was a young, very leggy African-American man in his early twenties. The reality was a bunch of little five and six year olds tumbling at him like excitable puppies while he lightly tapped (our fully protected/fully geared) little chests lightly with a roundhouse kick as we tried to get close. Talk about impossible odds… I definitely couldn’t win against him, my head couldn’t reach his waist!

And, yes, that’s small children.

With adults, you’re not dealing with such a monumental size difference and women, despite what some people in the comments might think, aren’t children. A man’s arm is not double or triple the length of theirs. At most, it’s a few centimeters, maybe a few inches, and you reach full extension on impact so you drive the force into your opponent rather than just stretching your arm out full length. Size in people is not the first thing I look for when I’m sizing them up. Stance, foot and shoulder placement, hand placement, eyes, and their ability to project their presence are what I pay attention to. Someone who can project their presence and who knows how to stand will always be intimidating, no matter how large or small they are.

My brother is five inches taller than me and, honestly, when it comes down to sparring I feel like we’re the same height.

Starke told me when we first met that people were usually intimidated by him, and my response was, “why?”

The answer is because he’s big, broad and tall, usually wears black jeans, biker boots, a black leather jacket, has a mile long stare, and long hair.

That’s it. That’s the only reason.

I, however, have broken bricks with my palm. Two in a single strike. I’ve also broken a brick with my elbow. I did that at eighteen which is about the same age or younger than most of you reading this blog. (I know the truth, I see your Google Analytics.)

Now, the same ninnies in the comments will tell you that it doesn’t count unless you’ve been in a real fight. You can hear the “but, but, but, but” from here, that is their only means of invalidating opinions they don’t like, or experiences which disagree with their worldview.

And I never said brick breaking was, but if you had to pick let me ask you, if all you knew about me and Starke was that Starke was an imposing 6″ who liked to wear black leather and that I can project enough force through my fist into a single target to break multiple bricks in a single shot, which would you think was more dangerous?

Obviously, the taller human.

You can always tell someone doesn’t respect violence when they talk about real fights as the barometer for valid experience, and that lack of a respect is the sign you’re dealing with an amateur. The irony here is that the more training you have the less likely you are to engage in violence. You have a better understanding of the dangers, the cost, and consequences.

-Michi

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Q&A: Prove it to Yourself, Not to Them

How do you suggest handling people (men who are friends of family, in my experience) who insist women can’t fight even if they have passed the classes they needed (I recently started a job that requires it and these men have been acting ‘concerned’ as if me taking this job is naive). I wanted to include something like this in a story I’m writing, but it would come across as me always thinking women have something to prove, as opposed to something from my own life I’m frustrated about. 🙁

Honestly? They can go fuck themselves.

You’re a grown ass woman. You know what you want. You know what you need to do. You can go get it. Trust that the training you get will help keep you safe, and you’re facing the same threats as the men who also have this job. Remember, real men who value you as a human being are supportive. They don’t equivocate, make differences between the girls and the boys. At most, they’ll talk about the additional threats women face and some approaches for dealing with them but those aren’t news. You already know about those, just like I did. I was fortunate to have a whole slew of these sorts of men as instructors in my martial arts program as a kid, and in a bunch of different martial arts classes I took as a young teen and young adult.

The truth is that men like that often have egos which are very fragile. They crave power and control by controlling the lives of others. They dress their “concerns” up as concerns (and if you’re taking a job that is dangerous, they should have a reason to be concerned) because, well, it’s dangerous for a woman isn’t it? Why don’t you just leave it to the boys? The idea of a woman doing this job makes them uncomfortable. It damages their self-image, because they’d be frightened to do it, because they think women shouldn’t. You need to remember, their comments (while they’re directed at you) are actually about them. These are the men who build their manhood around this culturally enshrined vision that doesn’t really exist. The one where (white) men are faster, stronger, smarter, better, more suited to the hard, violent, dirty jobs. You know the type. These men are weak, entitled, and need others to fail. They need women to consign themselves to the roles that they have assigned them so they can feel strong.

They may dress the damsel up with pretty words about being kind, pretty, sweet, and good often those often relate to their vision of who a woman should be. Nothing dirty, nothing dark, you’re always somewhere safe where you’re quiet, and biddable, and in your place. You’ve gotta be safely up on that pedestal. After all… “That’s just not how I see you, sweetheart.”

While these men are likely not going anywhere, and nothing we say will give them an epiphany or change their minds, you should remember that you don’t need their approval. You don’t need them.

These are men who society has taught they get to spout off like they’re an authority whenever they feel like it, not because they’ve anything of substance to add or done anything to deserve sharing their opinion but because they’re (white) men. There’s nothing that terrifies this type of man more than irrelevance. And, the second you realize that the power they think they have over you because of a family connection or your gender is only there if you give that power to them, that you can take that power away, that their opinion doesn’t control you, is the moment you’re free.

Now, that’s going to be difficult because society teaches women (in a variety of different ways) that we should let other people’s (usually older men’s) opinions decide who we are and what we can be. We can’t always change someone’s opinion, but we can decide whether we let their opinion affect us. We don’t need to be liked, we don’t need their approval, we don’t need them to decide our course for us. Their opinion is theirs, but we can decide otherwise. This is your life, not theirs. Learning to trust yourself when you’ve been taught your whole life that you can’t, that you need outside guidance, that outside opinions define the reality by which you live, is hard. You can do it, though. You went into your job with eyes wide open, you knew the risks, and you decided to take them because you’re an adult.

Putting these experiences into your writing can be a great way to work through your frustrations with people in your life. However, the power fantasy that usually rings hollow is the one where a chauvinist or misogynist turns around and realizes that yes, you really can do it once they see or experience it first hand. This is the fantasy your fear that you’d be writing “women have something to prove” is coming from. The reason why this fantasy sucks is because it puts the importance on the man’s acceptance of the woman’s truth, and sends the message his acceptance legitimizes her.

You’d make her proving herself about the men in her life rather than about her journey.

True power comes from realizing you don’t need to prove anything. You were always powerful all on your own. You gained confidence through your own sweat, blood, and tears. You conquered your frustrations, pushed past the doubters, shook off the detractors, and walked into the sunlight on your own power. The greatest empowerment comes from self-acceptance and self-love. In self-actualization, you realize loving yourself is the greatest gift you can give. You’re confident in yourself and comfortable in your own skin. You’ll realize you never needed those men and their approval anyway, and if they come around, well, that’s great… for them. Their decision won’t really affect you or your emotional health and well-being. You’ll just be rolling your eyes less at family dinners.

In your writing, you can practice not caring. You can have your characters try, and try. They may fail, they may succeed. It may take multiple drafts until you find the right note. Finding the strength to be your own person without the safety or approval provided by authority figures in your life is a real life issue both men and women struggle with. You just need to make sure you’re focusing on the character’s personal development and self-realization (“Yes, I can!”) rather than their actions being a source of proof that their detractors are wrong.

The people who doubt you don’t get to decide who you are.

You do.

– Michi

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Q&A: Combat Training for Girls

If we have a 22 year-old woman taught to use a sword by her father (in a historical fantasy kingdom setting) what would have a been a reasonable age her to start learning (using wooden swords)? In this setting, there is no social norm against woman learning to fight in any capacity. And if my setting is more Western, what would be a minimum reasonable age when she could carry her own real sword?

At the same age as the boys.

This is the problem when you want to do these setups. You have to forget that your character is female. There is literally no difference between a girl’s combat training and a boy’s. It is exactly the same, the expectations are the same, and the part where she’s female is tertiary as best. If you over focus on the fact she’s female (any hint of her being treated differently) in a setting where social norms about women in combat don’t exist will result in you shooting yourself in your own foot.

The minimum age is going to depend on her father, and will depend on her social station, which also depends on the kind of training she receives. This also depends on the sword type in question, whether we’re in the Middle Ages or the Renaissance, and if she’s expected to do anything else along with the sword fighting. For example, if she’s a knight versus a duelist. If her father is a mercenary who needs all hands on deck quickly, or can take his time about deciding when he lets her loose. If she apprentices outside of him, as knights did when they were sent out to serve as pages, then squires before they became full-fledged knights at twenty-one.

The problem here is that this girl’s training will go through several stages with weapons that are, technically, real. All training weapons are real. The wooden sword is a real weapon. The steel training sword which is blunted is also a real weapon. They are just not as immediately dangerous as a live blade, and she will never ever train with a live blade even after she receives one as her graduation present. The graduation present will probably coincide with whatever this setting considers her age of adulthood, which could be anywhere from fourteen to twenty-one depending on her social status. This one is going to depend on her father, and her setting. Her father might give her a real sword to take care of in her early teens which she gets to train with but not use on practice dummies or spar with, to teach her the importance of caring for her weapon. She might be allowed to carry it when traveling as her father’s second, but not use it outside a means of self-defense

There are a lot of different options here because Western training for combat was a highly personal experience dependent on the student’s master and, for the Middle Ages, tied heavily into ascension into adulthood rather than the regimented militarized structure or the comprehensive training systems we see coming out of, say, China.

So, the answer is when her father decides its appropriate for her to have one. Which is usually the point where he decides she can be responsible with it, and not kill herself or someone else. She still won’t be allowed to use it, but she can carry it. If she comes from a wealthy family then she’ll go through a few different swords because she’s constantly growing. If she doesn’t, she’ll probably just get the one she receives when her apprenticeship ends. Or whenever she has the means to buy her own sword from the local blacksmith, one that’s built to her specifications.

Carry and use are two different terms. Having and using are also separate terms. Your character can receive a weapon for the purposes of their training that they’re allowed to carry but not use.

You’ll need to study up on Western combat, specifically the era you choose to base the “historical” part of your historical fantasy on. With the resurgence of HEMA, there are plenty of fantastic resources online you can turn to for advice on sword combat. Matt Easton’s scholagladitoria channel is a great jumping off point. This can be great for defining the culture your character comes from and the type of combat she could expect to engage in. This, in turn, will hone the type of training she received from her father.

Writing a character’s training can be very difficult if you don’t understand the specific type of combat your character is going to engage in, and “sword combat” is not specific. There are lot of different types of swords with hundreds of variants in how to use them, and many that had their own specific purpose. Outside the Renaissance nobility, most sword combatants weren’t duelists. Duels, historically, were used as a means of settling legal disputes. While there were duels, the Middle Ages was more about various warlords fighting over territory. Their knights trained to engage as heavy infantry or heavy cavalry or both. They were usually trained on multiple different weapons, riding, hunting, and developed many other skills to aid them in warfare.

For purposes of writing your female character as a combatant, you need to forget she’s a girl. My answer about when the weapon gets carried would’ve been the same if you never mentioned the character’s gender. There are plenty of women who were, historically, trained in sword combat by their parents or were warriors due to circumstances. Too many for them all to be one offs or exceptions. The big thing to understand though is that the training doesn’t change regardless of whether your character is male or female. Her father would give her the same training he would’ve given a son.

If you haven’t considered filling your story up with female fighters in a universe that’s supposed to be gender neutral in terms of combat, then I encourage you to reconsider. To go any other way is to engage in a disingenuous girl power fantasy that does more to emphasize the female character’s special nature than it pushes the narrative that “women can do it too.” Normal requires there be more than one, and there be variety. This can be done specifically through minor characters peppered throughout your narrative, not just warriors or leaders but blacksmiths, farmers, merchants, etc. There also can be no, “but you’re a girl!”

She’s the rule, not the exception and therefore no one will give a shit.

-Michi

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Q&A: People Wear Armor Because They Want to Win

nipplepersecution said to howtofightwrite: I don’t know if you’ve already answered this at some point (I would be super greatful for a link if you have) but how would an unarmed and unarmored person trained in hand-to-hand combat take out a fully armored knight with a sword? Would it even be possible? Unarmed person is a strong built 5’5″, armored knight is 5’10”

So, you know that scene in any Jackie Chan movie where he hits overwhelming odds and goes, “nope!” then runs in the opposite direction? This sequence is that sequence, and sensible people who value their lives disengage and retreat. They run with purpose, but they still run. The height has no bearing on this fight by the way, the armored knight could be 5’5 and the person who was 5’10 wouldn’t have any better odds. The sword would be bad enough by itself, the armor just makes everything worse for the unarmed/unarmored person.

Would it be possible? Yes. However, possible doesn’t mean easy or that you could do it in a conventional way. I bring up Jackie Chan (not just because he choreographs amazing fight scenes) because he does a great job showcasing the age old tactic of utilizing your environment and finding higher ground or a place to fight that’s more advantageous. If the unarmed/unarmored person chooses to stand and fight this suggested setup is the equivalent of shooting fish in a barrell. It’d be the same with just the sword, which can keep you at a range where you can do nothing or just the armor because you don’t want to go into fisticuffs with the guy or girl wearing a medieval equivalent to brass knuckles. (I assume you’re thinking of plate as opposed to chainmail, leather, or padded armor. It is worth remembering that none of those would make this situation better.)

Plate armor is the other person wearing forty to sixty pounds of solid steel, the weight distributed across the whole of the body, and the only weak points are usually at the joints or points of articulation where the armor pieces separate. The mistake most make is assuming that because armor is heavy, it is difficult to move in or significantly slows the fighter down. This is not true. Heavy armor infantry were highly mobile, and trained to develop the endurance to fight for prolonged periods in armor specially tailored to their body. Your unarmed fighter could wear this individual down but they’d have to work for it, and that’s the sprinting, jumping over walls, fences, climbing buildings, and running across rooftops types of work for it. Stand and fight will result in them being cut up by the sword before they can get into a range to be able to harm their opponent. And even if they do manage to wear the knight down, the knight still has their armor. The best wearing the knight down does is buy the unarmed fighter time to find a weapon like a longarm/polearm which might lend them some advantage or a friend who can help them turn the tables.

Would you enjoy punching a tank? The answer is probably no. And knights aren’t just tanks, and they’re not just good at wielding swords. There’s an entire hand to hand and grappling system for knights in armor, and they were usually trained to handle multiple weapon types. So, if you unarmed fighter can manage to get rid of the sword or get themselves into a tight quarters environment where the blade is more of a liability than a help, they’ll still have to deal with an armored opponent capable of punching their lights out.

There needs to be a strong contextual reason in your narrative for the unarmored character to even think about engaging in what amounts to an almost certain suicide by sword. Even then, if they must fight, there’s no reason to battle this armored character on their opponent’s terms or the ground which benefits the armored character. The armored character has every advantage, there’s no reason to give them more.

One of the issues with the way fiction writers approach arms and armor is they think of them like accessories, a trait you give one character to differentiate them from the others. Arms and armor are really about taking an advantage over your opponent, about getting the upper hand, and bettering your own odds of survival. You bring a knife to a fist fight because you want to win, not because you want to fight fair. There’s no fighting fair when your life is at stake.

The problem for the unarmed fighter is that a even decent swordsman, or a poor one, has the means to keep them at a range where they can do nothing while the swordsman slices them to ribbons. The armor ensures that even if they do get successfully themselves past the blade without dying (a challenge all by itself) then their attacks won’t do much. The steel will hurt them more than their blows will hurt the swordsman. Their lack of armor means that any blow the sword lands has the potential to be fatal, even if the wound is not deep. A sword doesn’t need more than an inch of penetration to land a killing blow. Once someone starts poking holes in your muscles, they stop working. The unarmed/unarmored fighter has to be better than perfect to succeed where the armored swordsmen can be merely okay to not great, and even then the unarmed fighter will likely still die.

None of this means impossible, it just means you’re going to have to work really goddamn hard to sell the sequence. This is where the Jackie Chan advice is helpful because you don’t need your character to win in order to cement them as a badass in your audience’s imagination. A chase scene can be as exciting as a fight scene, and a chase scene can easily transition into a fight scene. It’s important to know when your character is outmatched for the sake of your own narrative tension, so you don’t blow your story on a one off in a desperate need to prove yourself. Running from the guy who brought the gun to the knife fight, especially when he had the presence of mind to draw before the knifer could get in range, is having a sense of self-preservation. A sense of self-preservation and threat assessment are important skills for any trained fighter to possess.

-Michi

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Q&A: A sword is not load Bearing

Anonymous said to howtofightwrite:

So… There’s this scene in a book where a swordsman thrusts at a guy with two knives and the thrust was deflected so the swordsman stumbles forward. Knife Guy grabs the swordsman’s collar and then demonstrates to an apprentice that he can a) stab Sword Guy in the throat b) stab Sword Guy in the chest and/or c) cripple Sword Guy. Is Sword Guy just a bad combatant or is this actually usable?

I’m hoping this scene occurred in a safe training environment and not in a live scenario because so many more problems pop up if it did. They’d be a whole other post about why you don’t train people while fighting for your life (even against a subpar opponent, you’re confident your trainer character could beat.) That would be a whole other post about how stupid that makes characters look.

The short answer is that whether or not Sword Guy is supposed to be a good combatant is dependent on the narrative and the author who wrote it. There’s a lot about the scenario that doesn’t make sense and makes both characters look like idiots, along with a general side of “not how this works”. This includes a third arm problem. The author knew just enough to be aware of certain concepts like deflection, stumbling, and grabbing someone by the collar but not how they work or what causes them.

Let’s start at the top.

1. A sword is not load bearing.

Swords weigh between two to four pounds. They’re not heavy. The only way it’d be possible for the swordsman to stumble on a thrust would be if he had to throw his entire weight behind the sword, and have the forward momentum carry him forward. (Which is why the great axe is swung in a figure eight pattern.) However, you don’t need deep penetration with a sword and a thrust is about the tip, not the whole sword. A thrust moves off one leg, not both, in a step forward (if that) and a deflection will not unbalance your opponent on its own. If the weapon weighed twenty pounds, then it couldn’t be deflected. It’d have too much forward momentum. The swordsman would never come close enough for the Dual Wielder to grab him, and the Dual Wielder couldn’t grab him by the collar anyway because he’s duel wielding.

However, this is all predicated on the idea that the swordsman stumbled close enough to be in range for the Dual Wielder. Swords add an extra four or so feet of distance. He wouldn’t be close enough for the dual wielder to reach him. Dual Wielder would have to come to Sword Guy and not the other way around. An experienced knifer would know that.

2. Dual wielding knives is about a sacrificing defense for offense.

Outside specific tools like parrying daggers (which are not the same as regular daggers), knives exist to accentuate hand to hand. Using two means you’ve made a conscious choice to sacrifice utility and defense for more offense. Sacrificing utility includes collar grabbing. He would either need to drop one of his knives (bad) or he sprouted a third arm.

You can hold the knife or grab the collar, not both.

3. The sword is never out of play.

A good rule of thumb is: deal with the weapon first.

This technique that’s being shown off assumes that your enemy will politely stand there while you move two ranges in (from sword to hand to grappling) so you can grab them by the collar to stab them in the throat or chest or stab them in a joint to take them out of the fight. (Let’s ignore the chest too because you’ve got to deal with the breastbone and the unprotected stomach, abdominals, gut is just a few inches lower.)

Of course, Sword Guy still has his sword and edged weapons can cut you coming and going.

If sword guy is using two hands then he can rotate his sword and come back across on the deflection. It assumes the blade is not coming on a downward angle on the thrust, which is not getting deflected. This also assumes sword guy is not half-handing (where one hand is halfway up the blade) which can’t be deflected/parried.

So, all Dual Wielder did was open up his side to a blade that can be reoriented and brought sideways. Which assumes the deflection could happen in the first place, which is unlikely because…

4. You don’t parry with knives.

Again, that’s what your free hand is for.

There’s a problem with this scenario regarding the size of the knives in question. Some knives or daggers like bayonets are long enough they could concievably parry a sword, and get away with it. However, if your blade is long enough that it can parry a sword then grabbing someone by the collar is superfluous because you will be able to strike them before you are in range to grab their body. You’d also be putting your weapon outside the range where it is most useful to you, which is goes against the lesson this teacher is trying to impart.

5. There’s a misconception about depth.

You don’t need to go deep with a blade to do damage. Think about how painful a papercut is, or how easy it is to cut yourself while cooking. Surface level cuts to the skin can cause you to bleed out over an extended period, especially during times of high activity when your heart is rapidly pumping blood through your body. You don’t have to go deep to start cutting muscles in the arms or legs, which can debilitate your opponent.

A lot of writers obsess about stabbing someone in the heart or running someone through with a sword, but the true danger of bladed weapons is that it doesn’t take much against an unarmored opponent. That’s why people wore armor, and part of why the formality of first blood in duels exists. A single cut can be deadly. Surface level injuries with these weapons in the right place can kill you, especially if left without medical attention. Every cut you land is bad for your enemy.

6. We moved two ranges in.

We talk about range sometimes on this blog, but the key thing to remember is that range just means the distance it takes for a specific attack to hit your opponent. Grabbing hold of someone’s collar puts you in grappling range, which means that the person is right up next to you. This is close enough that your arm couldn’t reach full extension if you punched. This is the range where hooks, elbows, and upper cuts come into play.

The kind of stumbling this scenario is talking about is the kind you get when you grab someone and pull them forward. It’s actually very hard to get someone to stumble on a basic attack because most stances will have you set your balance, and your body moves together when you attack. So, in order for you to stumble a large amount of force must be delivered into you or you’re purposefully knocked off balance. All a deflection does is shift the strike off vector so that it misses. If you follow up with nothing, then the other person either resets to their original fighting stance or changes tack and like rotating the blade, kicking, or striking with their other hand. There’s no reason for Sword Guy to stumble at all, certainly not stumble through two other ranges (sword and hand) into grappling without the Dual Wielder needing to do anything. The best way to get someone to stumble forward is to catch them off balance and yank, which can’t be done if you’re holding a weapon.

Conclusion:

The basic problem of this scenario is that it sounds good on the surface but falls apart when you stop to think about it. The scene also lacks key understanding of how these weapons function and why they work. Dual Wielder has an overfocus on the neck/chest, neither of which are particularly good strike points. Remember, the sternum protects the heart from a stab or downward strike. If you want to get there, you’re going to need to go through the ribs. The neck is difficult because if you’ve got short weapons then you have to be up close. Both these places sound good to novices because they know they work or that they should work.

Writing weapons means brushing up on your anatomy. You need to study how the human body works, where it works, and how it breaks. You can cut someone on the wrist, either going after the artery in the forearm or just to distract them while you move in on the better protected target. With knives, two cuts are better than one. You don’t need a lot of penetration.

-Michi

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Q&A: A character can only teach what they know

keleviel said to howtofightwrite: How does one teach fighting? The teacher in question is a dirty street fighter who learned via being beaten up until she learned how to stop that, but assuming she doesn’t want to just pummel her student.

A teacher teaches the way they’ve been taught, especially new teachers who have no other examples to pull from. The problem, of course, is that beating someone up as a training method doesn’t actually teach anything other than how to survive being beaten up. (If the student even learns that, they may just learn how to get beaten up.) This is the sort of slug fest, even when you lose, that makes you feel powerful and strong when you come out the other side (Fight Club is an excellent example) but this is an illusion. You don’t actually learn technical skills from slugging it out with someone else.

The problem here is while I could talk about the methods one uses to teach fighting that won’t actually help you that much, because the methods are entirely dependent on the individual’s experiences and what they’re learning how to do. So, this street fighter can’t teach their student anything they haven’t learned how to do or teach from a method they wouldn’t have any reason to know especially if those methods are outside the realm of their own experience. This will be even harder if she’s never taught before and has no one to go to for advice. This gets even harder if you’re planning to tell a story where either teacher or student has to go outside their own sphere and are up against professional or seasoned combatants used to fighting higher caliber opponents than the ones you find in backroom brawls.

Have I mentioned street fighters are, by their nature, low tier?

They have the capacity to be dangerous, just like everyone else. They have the capacity to do harm, but in terms of technical skill they are at the bottom. No amount of “dirty fighting” changes that because “dirty fighting” is just breaking the expected/established rules of combat and everyone else already does that.

Again, you cannot teach what you don’t know and not all training is created equal. Instructing someone in the combat arts requires a certain level of technical skill, the ability to process and understand that skill, then contextualize it so someone else without the same experiences can understand and imitate. A street fighter can teach a lot of other skills, survival skills for the streets, but they don’t really have the luxury of putting together a robust training regimen to pass on their fighting skills. Mostly because they don’t have that many skills to begin with.

Stop an ask yourself an important question, what did this street fighting character learn from being pummeled? There’s the generic “until she learned to put a stop to it” but that’s generic and doesn’t tell you anything about her experience, about what she learned to do from being beaten. What did she specifically learn to do? How does she, specifically, fight?

Once you know what she can specifically do then you know what she can teach, and start the process of her figuring out how to teach it. If you’ve never thought seriously about the specifics of her fighting abilities then that’s the flaw you need to address. Her limitations are not a bad thing depending on what you need her for as a character and what she needs to teach her student for your narrative to work.

A drill sergeant can only teach you how to be a soldier.

A boxing instructor can only teach you how to box.

A taekwondo master can only teach you taekwondo.

And on and on it goes.

“Street fighters” generally learn to fight by brawling, usually through backroom and backyard brawls. If they don’t learn quickly, like about knives and other weapons, they die fast. This isn’t some cohesive fighting style that’s carefully cultivated and passed on from one fighter to another. When we talk about “street fighters”, we’re usually discussing gangs and similar groups who survive and thrive in the dark corners of society. The romanticized “dirty” component is usually them trying to get a leg up by using knives and other weapons in ambush combat where they finish the fight in the opening blows. Ambush combat is where you take your opponent by surprise and attack before they have time to retaliate, but for street fighters this is often a one trick pony. They often don’t have the stamina or the technical ability to keep going if the first attack fails. Outside underground boxing tournaments, they often operate in groups because numbers will make up for that lack of skill. They don’t usually have the ability to coordinate effectively in a group, but that also usually doesn’t matter because they’re preying on those of even ability or those less capable than themselves. Numbers are what give them an edge over law enforcement because high enough numbers trump skill.

All your street fighter knows how to do is survive ambush combat and execute ambush combat, which is what the beating or brawling process in the street fighter “training” is for

This probably isn’t the romanticized ideal of the “dirty street fighter” you imagine, the deadly fighter whose skills are honed by battles fought to ensure their survival on the streets. The one whose hard won knowledge beats out the soft warriors in their castles. Whose dirty tactics turn the tables to give them an edge while battling the honorable upper crust. The ones who dare to break the rules of warfare because they and they alone understand, “the only fair fight is the one you lose.”

The problem is that anyone who fights in a life or death situation understands that rule. Everyone fights dirty. Everyone takes every advantage they can to win because winning is surviving. Everyone wants to go home to their families at the end of the day. There is no pure combat, no clean combat, and no proper way of doing things. The ideal exists because the ideal is comforting, but warfare is not an honorable business.

I mean, there are soldiers making jokes on Instagram right now about hunting and how they want to say they hunt people but don’t want to sound like a psychopath.

Jokes on you though, because they do. They hunt people.

The romantic ideal of honorable combat which must be embraced for dirty fighting to work is actually bullshit. Honorable combat is a notion that exists both for society’s comfort and to set up rules for controlled combat scenarios like tournaments. You’ll still find people there who are standing by the letter of the rules but breaking with the spirit of them. Like those knights who would unscrew the knob off the sword hilt and bean the other knight with it at the start of the match before attacking. The reason behind the act was to distract their opponent so they could land the early points which would ensure their victory. Yes, nobles were often ransomed during the Middle Ages but plenty of regular soldiers were blinded, had their limbs removed, were imprisoned, or killed by the enemy after capture. The same often happened to those nobles who had no means or no wealthy patron to pay their way.

So, the question you should be asking yourself is how would your street fighter train someone to fight? What does she know how to do? What doesn’t she know how to do? What has she learned that her own master didn’t teach her? How would she choose to impart similar lessons to her student in ways that aren’t vastly outside her own experience or things she wouldn’t think of? Because most of the answers I could give you about how people learn to fight would involve her going to watch some other training master in some other part of the city to see how they train their students then try to imitate that, which ultimately defeats the purpose of what you’re after. She’d be teaching them to fight like someone else and not like herself.

The problem with fiction is that the best writing holds to the rules of the world it exists in. Which means that your character may be the best street fighter but she can only use her experiences to train her student to (hopefully) be the best street fighter. This doesn’t mean they’re the best fighter who can take on all comers, this just means they’re the (hopefully) best street fighter and will have to learn more from other teachers in order to progress through any other sphere. This is also a standard storytelling technique in most sports and martial arts movies, so learn to embrace it.

Remember, the world of the combat arts is vast and specificity is key. Your characters can’t act outside their knowledge without explanation, and a character who comes from a conventionally trained fighting background before going to the streets is very different from one for whom the streets are their only experience. You should review the fighting style you envision this character possessing and ensure it fits with the background you’ve set for them.

-Michi

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